How to Communicate Calmly
How we communicate is at least as important as what we communicate. Quality of communication can make or break relationships, whether in the business world or our personal lives. How can you communicate your needs calmly and effectively, even in a conflict situation? This article gives tips for calm communication, based on my experience in the conflict resolution field.
When disagreement emerges at work, or home, it is easy to lose our cool. Unfortunately, venting our feelings of anger can damage relationships and escalate the conflict. That's why it is important to communicate calmly - emphasising our respect for the other party and focussing on solutions without getting personal.
Take time to let your anger cool before you talk.
Going straight in there while you're still feeling emotional and giving a colleague or family-member a 'piece of your mind' won't help solve the problem. It will make things worse. Instead take time out to reflect on why the situation bothers you so much; look at what needs you have that aren't being met. A needs-based communication opens the way to solutions. For example instead of saying 'I'm sick of how you never take my ideas seriously!', try 'I need to get more affirmation from you that you are taking my ideas seriously'. The second sentence is already offering a resolution to the issue: if your need for feedback can be met the conflict will disappear.
Don't make it personal.
By focussing on the issue as the problem, rather than making other people the problem, you are more likely to reduce and avoid conflict. Making personal accusations gets people's backs up, it damages relationships and it draws attention away from the search for solutions. So rather than saying something like 'You're so lazy, you never pick up any slack' , try something like 'I feel I'm carrying more than my share of the workload here and I need to reduce it in order to do my job properly. Can we look at a new way to divide out tasks?'. That way, you are joined in the search for a solution and importantly, your relationship is still in tact.
Focus on Solutions
If there is a serious issue it is important that you raise it. But just pointing out problems all the time won't win you many friends. It will be much easier to have a calm discussion about the issue if instead of focussing on blame (whose fault it is), you focus on solutions. For example, if you need to raise a problem with your boss, showing that you have already looked at what is needed and begun considering solutions will reassure him or her that you are not just trying to make their life more difficult! Pointing out possible solutions shows you are not looking to blame anyone for the situation, you have simple noticed that something needs to change. This makes for a much calmer conversation.
Remember your non-verbal communication
So maybe you have planned out how you are going to raise the issue calmly and effectively, but then you stand there talking to the other person with a hand on your hip, a scowl on your face and a sneering tone in your voice .... I don't think they are going to believe you are communicating calmly with them! A huge amount of human communication is non-verbal, so if you want to raise an issue without it escalating into a conflict remember to take an open stance, make frequent eye-contact and use a calm, respectful tone of voice.
Take a broad perspective
Yes, it might feel good to tell that colleague every critical thing you've ever thought about them - for about five seconds. And then what? What are the consequences of your outburst for your long-term relationship with this person?. Because make no mistake, you are going to have a relationship with this person - it can just be a happy, productive relationship or a very bad and tense one. Communicating your needs calmly and effectively results in better relationships and contributes to an atmosphere of team-work and co-operation rather than blame and retribution.
So, to re-cap, the secrets of calm communication are:
1. Don't act when you're angry - first take time out to reflect on your unmet needs.
2. Don't get personal - keep your conversation about the issue only.
3. Focus on solutions - forget the 'blame game'.
4. Remember to match your body language to what you are saying.
5. Take a broad perspective - swap short-term point-scoring for longer-term gains in relationship building and co-operation.
Introduction to calm communication: non-violent communication
Great sources for more information
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